Sweet Christmas dreams are made of this

Expats can still celebrate the holiday season when far from home

The holiday season is supposed to be a joyous time, spent with friends and family, but expats often wonder how they will celebrate the festive season in their new country. The good news is that people everywhere love to celebrate. You may not be celebrating the same holidays, in the same way, as you did in your home country but didn’t you go abroad to have new experiences?

Last year, my husband and I did go to a party on Christmas Day, but the hosts were Buddhists. On 25 December, they always celebrate Annie Lennox’s birthday. It felt the same as a Christmas party but instead of listening to Christmas carols, Annie Lennox and Eurythmics music played all day. To be honest, I enjoyed that much more than stale old Christmas songs.

Why only celebrate Christmas?
In Singapore, a multi-cultural country, at this time of year I can join in the festivities for Deepavali (the Hindu festival of lights), Christmas, and Chinese New Year. With so many cultures living together, the year is filled with holidays. There is no time for post-holiday depression because another holiday will coming up soon, and at least some part of the city is always decked with festive decorations.

Right now, the front door to my apartment is flanked by Deepavali flower garlands and a colourful rangoli sticker in front of the threshold. I still have my Chinese New Year decorations up from last year (because I like them) and I think I’ll add some Christmas lights and ornaments this week. Vive la difference!

Same same, but different
Christmas is more widespread than you might think. More than 160 countries in the world celebrate Christmas in some form. In Singapore, the shops and malls are full of Christmas decorations and the Christmas carols have already been playing on the store sound systems long enough to be annoying – just like back home.

If you are having trouble finding people to celebrate with, look for holiday events hosted by local expat groups and clubs. Restaurants and bars frequented by expats may also host holiday events. For example in Singapore, the Hollandse Club celebrates the arrival of Sinterklaas. In what must be a VERY LONG boat trip from Spain, he arrives in Singapore with his Pieten. They land at Bayfront South Jetty and then proceed to the Hollandse Club, where the kids can tell Sinterklaas what they want him to leave in their shoes.

Make new holiday traditions
This year, it looks like we will celebrate a proper Christmas. We will be having dinner with friends from New Zealand. The hostess has baked a special Kiwi holiday cake that needs to ‘mature’ for 6 weeks. I’m just hoping that this is because it is soaking in alcohol. Fingers crossed. Of course we’ll stop by Annie Lennox’s birthday party first – because it wouldn’t be Christmas without Annie Lennox.


Lynelle BarrettLynelle Barrett has both US and Dutch citizenship. Before moving to Singapore in 2013, she lived in Leiden for eight years, teaching Business English and working as an editor for Expatica. Originally from the US, she has also lived in the Czech Republic, Belgium, Nepal, and Hong Kong. She is currently teaching Business English at the British Council Singapore, and travelling around Asia as much as possible.

Other blogs of Lynelle:

  1. From the Netherlands to Singapore: two different styles of freedom
  2. Are we having fun yet? Get ready to work hard on your leisure activities in Asia
  3. Hindsight is 20/20… or maybe 50/50
  4. Tips from Dutch expats: advice for Dutch people moving country

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